March Reading Summary

I know. I’m late.

I had the foresight to summarize my February reading on the first day of March, but now we’re halfway through April and it only just recently occurred to me that I hadn’t yet made a March reading post because this quarantine has been kinda killing my motivation. While I don’t object to the idea of staying inside and never going anywhere, it’s actually made me less productive because the TV’s always on and there’s Pokémon to be caught and a huge backlog of Forged in Fire episodes to watch. Look I’m not proud of myself okay 😭

Anyway: today I happened to be unusually motivated, partly because it’s the weekend but mostly because I decided I was going to support my favorite sandwich shop, which makes the best tuna sandwiches I’ve ever had.

This was a very good decision, because it motivated me to clean up the hideous black holes that my bookcases had become, not to mention all the random-ass books that were scattered around my desk and on the floor.

Apparently it’s been a while since I’ve dusted the black bookcase, because two of my bookends left prints on the shelf. I was amused.

I was originally going to go through my books and see if I wanted to donate anything to make room for all the new books I bought but haven’t read, but then I realized that I haven’t read probably about 90% of the books on my shelves and I didn’t actually want to give any of them away, so I ended up opening up a new shelf on another case and moving all the anthologies there. This somehow turned into me pulling all the books off their shelves, dusting the shelves, and putting all the books back in alphabetical order by author. I mean, it’s not like I’m going anywhere.

OMG I ACTUALLY HAVE SPACE……………………..FOR MORE BOOKS

I even had extra room on the new anthologies shelf for my library books, so now they’re not blocking the children’s section anymore!

Unexpected hazard: I kept knocking my duck off her shelf and just narrowly catching her. I’ve really gotta find a better home for her.

Bonus: I actually did manage to find a pile of books to donate.

PROGRESS. 🥳


March Reading Stats

Books Finished:

  1. The Great Passage – Shion Miura
  2. Snow & Rose – Emily Winfield Martin
  3. The Lake – Banana Yoshimoto
  4. The Girl in Red – Christina Henry
  5. The Dove’s Necklace – Raja Alem

Total Pages Read: 1,531

My March page count is significantly lower than my February page count, but February was padded out by twenty 200-page mangas, which really added up fast. In February I only read three books that I would consider “real” and in March I read five, so I’m pretty pleased with my progress. Even if it doesn’t happen within the next year or so, I want to eventually get to the point where I don’t have to rely on mangas to meet my reading goal.


And now, a moment of silence for my expectations.

The Dove’s Necklace
Raja Alem

Warning: Spoilers and a lot of confusion.

March’s crowning achievement was the completion of The Dove’s Necklace, which was………really something. I’ve never been this upset by a book, not even when I was slogging through The Amber Spyglass. The last time I wrote about The Dove’s Necklace, I thought I was going to love it because it was supposed to be “nuanced as a Nabokov novel.” The main difficulty that I for some reason did not anticipate is that I usually don’t understand Nabokov novels.

I think part of the problem was that I just didn’t get this book. I know absolutely nothing about Arabic history and culture, and I kinda get the feeling that the book would’ve made more sense if I’d been better informed. It didn’t help that the prose did indeed remind me of a typical Nabokov novel, in that it was so intricate that I spent most of my time trying to figure out what the author was saying. I hated all the characters, didn’t always recognize them when they popped up, and ended up doing a blitz read just so I could finish the book without getting hung up on the prose. I skimmed through the five-page character monologues and neverending emails/diaries so fast that I might as well have skipped them, but I think I caught most of the major points.

I missed a lot of finer details while I was blitzing, but the gist of the story is that a young woman is found naked and presumably murdered in the Lane of Many Heads, a low-income neighborhood in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The case is assigned to Detective Nasser al-Qahtani, who learns that the victim may be either Azza or Aisha, two young women who grew up in the Lane of Many Heads and recently went missing. Over the course of his investigation, Nasser reads the extensive love letters Aisha has written to her German boyfriend and gradually becomes obsessed with her. In a parallel storyline, Azza’s childhood friend and adoptive brother Yusuf learns that he is descended from a family that had something to do with the key to the Kaaba, most of whose history I have forgotten.

As far as I can tell, the dead woman in the alley was Aisha. I’m 99.9999999% sure that Aisha jumped off the roof following the stillbirth of her illegitimate child, and that Azza, who was secretly seeing a wealthy property developer named Khalid al-Sibaykhan, took advantage of her suicide to fake her own death and run. Azza briefly alludes to Aisha jumping, and also has disturbing memories of helping Aisha both deliver and bury her child. The other possibility is that Aisha was murdered by her runaway husband, who found her naked and video chatting with her boyfriend, but she seems to have fought him off and I’m not sure if he went back after that. Either way, Azza runs away to become al-Sibaykhan’s mistress and doesn’t directly appear in the story until the last third of the book, when she is introduced as Nora. I wish I could say she’s happy and fulfilled, but she is in fact trapped in a deeply unhealthy relationship with a man who thinks nothing of selling her into prostitution as a punishment for running away from him. And, at the end of the book, nothing changes: though Azza turns out to be a talented artist and starts putting on exhibitions of her work, though Yusuf unexpectedly appears and tries to get her to run away with him and she almost makes it out of the parking lot, she balks when she realizes that Yusuf is accompanied by Nasser, who turns out to be al-Sibaykhan’s personal assistant. Her story ends with her walking back into al-Sibaykhan’s office, with the understanding that she is going to be punished, while Yusuf is incapacitated and either arrested or killed by Nasser.

This was what pissed me off more than anything, because I struggled through 500 pages of Arabic philosophy to end up in exactly the same spot. Azza is back with al-Sibaykhan, Yusuf is back in jail, and al-Sibaykhan is still going to bulldoze the Lane of Many Heads. I understand why Azza went back. I understand that she had nowhere else to go and would probably not have been safe from al-Sibaykhan even if she had found somewhere to hide. I understand that she had nothing of her own and would not have been able to live off her art. It’s certainly a realistic ending, but it also means that after a 500-page slog there’s zero payoff. The other major obstacles for me were Yusuf’s articles and Aisha’s babbly emails, which extensively quoted D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love and often came with several multi-paragraph postscripts. I’ve never been a fan of the Character Writing Letters device, and this book did not change my mind.

This isn’t to say that the book was bad. I would call it upsetting rather than bad. The prose, though hard to follow, was (when I understood it) lovely and often funny. My favorite part was probably the Lane of Many Heads, which was treated as a character unto itself and often served as a narrator. I may not have been able to appreciate this particular book, but I’m definitely going to look up other Middle Eastern writers. My reading list to date has been very homogeneous, but that’s going to change. I’m tired of visiting only one part of the literary globe.


Miscellaneous Reading News

I’ve told myself all along that I wouldn’t make an Instagram just for my books, which is why I now have one. 😬 I decided this week that I wanted a dedicated bookgram so I could spam everybody with gratuitous book pics connect with the reading community on Instagram without random junk pictures getting in the way, so my book photos will be posted on bookycnidaria moving forward. If you know any good bookgrams I should follow, please let me know. My follow list is rather sparse at the moment.

Planning for the Apocalypse

I am, as I’ve said, an incompetent resolution-keeper, but I’ve made a big 2020 resolution that I hope I can keep: to write on this poor lonely blog once a week, or at the very least twice a month. I’m trying not to make promises I can’t keep (e.g., “use LA Fitness membership”), so I figured I’d better not commit to a weekly posting schedule when my department is currently bracing itself for the usual springtime projectpocalypse.

Anyway. I was going to have a whole post on New Year’s day about my new 2020 planners because I’m gross but then I went off on a boondoggle about books and ended up writing too much, so the planners got pushed back. Today, though, I’m home early from work because of the first snow of the season (and also hoping that the lame Maryland weather can keep its shit together long enough to stay properly cold for the next couple of months) and I don’t have anything else to do, so here we go!

Planners of Christmas Present

BN’s stupid stickers aside, LOOK AT THESE PRECIOUS BABIES OMG (I told you I was gross 😬) The big one lives at work, but the little one gets carried around in whatever bag I happen to be using. Last year the planners all went on sale before the new year, so this year I stalked BN’s planner shelves for the better part of the last week of December and discovered that the dated planners were 50% off when I caved and went to buy the little one and it rang up at the sale price. Then I went back to the shelf and found out that the big planner I’d been keeping an eye on hadn’t been sold out like I thought; it was merely hiding behind another planner. When I went back through the line I ended up plaguing the same cashier with my dumb planner stories, because life can occasionally be cute. 🤣

idk why llamas are suddenly in vogue but I hope they stay that way because these planners are literally everything I ever needed. I’m a nut so I waited till literally New Year’s day to finally peel off the stickers BUT IT WAS SO SATISFYING. The only thing that kinda makes me sad is that my last two work planners had a nice little chart in the back that I could color-code according to how good or bad my days were and my current work planner doesn’t have that, so the studio must have discontinued it, but I suppose you can’t have everything. On the other hand it was kind of a pain to color in a little box every day (I know, I know, I’m embarrassing) and I often forgot and had to try to guess how I was feeling for several days in a row, but now I don’t have to worry about that!

Planners of Christmas Past

I arrived way late to the planner party because even though I’m a stationery geek and I loved the idea of having a planner (because I love notebooks and never seem to have enough of them), I never actually bought one until January 12, 2018. For anyone impressed with my super specific memory, I should probably mention here that I actually thought I bought it in August 2018 and literally the only reason I know that I bought it in January is that I wrote it down.

Because apparently I somehow knew – and I actually do remember this part – that I would want to know exactly when I got on the planner bandwagon. Of course, having bought the planner, I then proceeded to leave it at home the following day. As for why I finally hopped on the Organized People train, I was working at Papyrus, the planners were right across the aisle from the registers so they were literally staring me in the face, they were all 50% off, I really wanted a cute little booky thing to carry around, and the one that I picked was SO FUCKING CUTE.

I mean okay one of my friends said it looked like a Bible but even so it was absolutely perfect 😭 On a slightly less shallow note, I actually did have a good reason that I’m pretty sure I came up with after I bought the planner, which was that I was using Google Calendar to keep track of everything and it occurred to me that I was very much not okay with Google having my entire social calendar and work schedule in the palm of its algorithms. Then at the end of January 2018 I started my current job and realized I was going to need some way of keeping all my work projects straight, and gleefully trotted over to the BN next door to buy a work planner. The rest, as they say, is history.

2020 Personal Planner Goals

I will:

  • Use the planner to keep track of appointments and social events.
  • Use the planner to track my reading.

I will not:

  • Forget to use the planner and then turn it into a retroactive diary.
  • Leave the planner at home.
  • Wonder why I need a planner and give up.

358 days stand between me and the end of the year. LET’S DO THIS THING!!!

30 Days of Projects

April 1, 2019 is not only my first day of freedom from the corporate shackles but the commencement of finishing all of my unfinished projects. Inspired by a friend and former colleague, I aim to accomplish at least one project on each day of April. Today, I finally set up my new desk and reorganized my work space.

One down and only 29 more to go!